We Need Each Other: Recovering Addicts and The Local Church

“Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.”

“Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.”

This manifesto is the result of many conversations among the Spiritual Life team at Helping Up Mission, where I work. The “we” that occurs throughout is the four of us — Gary, Kirk, Mike, and myself — speaking primarily to church leaders and church members in congregations that partner with us at HUM.

While Christian organizations like Helping Up Mission play a vital role in starting men on a path of recovery and Christian discipleship, we believe that local churches are the best context for men to continue their spiritual growth and find long-term support in their sobriety. We also believe that local churches can benefit greatly from welcoming recovering addicts into their communities. In other words, we need each other!

Why a church is especially good for a recovering addict

Identity in Christ

We derive much of our sense of self from the communities we inhabit. If a man’s community is only recovery-oriented, his sense of identity will tend to be focused on his addiction. But if he can become meaningfully involved in the life of a local church, his identity in Christ will be encouraged and strengthened. And we believe this identity is the greatest power for lasting recovery.

A thicker network

Often a man’s relational network is mainly made up of other people in recovery. This can have its benefits, but a drawback is that the recovery community can be a revolving door. Many local churches are more stable in their membership, which makes it easier to develop deep and lasting relationships across all kinds of differences. And meaningful church membership can provide even thicker connections and accountability.

Character formation beyond mere sobriety

Our Deputy Director, Pastor Gary, often reminds our men that the focus of the 12 Steps is not chemicals, but character. And that doesn’t make recovery any easier! Character formation is slow work, and can easily slide into self-righteousness (with success) or despair (with failure). We believe that only the radical grace of the gospel will transform men into Christ-likeness, and the local church is the main stage where God works that out.

These are just three of the ways that belonging to a local church is a huge long-term help to a man in recovery. But the benefits run both ways…

Why a recovering addict is especially good for a church

An example of brutal honesty

“You walk into a church, and everyone admits that they’re a sinner,” says our Spiritual Life Director Mike Rallo. “But nobody says what kind!” One of the strengths of 12 Step programs is that they place a serious emphasis on the regular practices of confession and repentance — both to God and to other people. These valuable disciplines have been forgotten or greatly neglected by many church members, resulting in communities of faith where “Fine” is the default answer to “How’re you doing?” Sadly, many Christians try to deal with their guilt, shame, and fear on their own… But a recovering addict will often lead by example, bringing refreshing (and brutal) honesty to spiritual conversations.

A bridge to the recovery community

For decades, the recovery community has existed mainly outside of the local church. Many churches host AA and NA meetings in their basements and back rooms, but the connections between those meetings and Sunday morning worship are often thin at best. Groups like Celebrate Recovery are bridging the gap, but there’s so much more potential for discipleship. Many people in recovery are believers, and many more are open to learning more about the Christian faith. A man in recovery can be a relational bridge between his church and other recovering folks in the area.

A monument to God’s grace

Don’t overlook the obvious: a Christian man in recovery is a living monument to God’s mercy. This is true of every Christian, but stories of addiction and recovery are often among the most moving testimonies to the depth of God’s love and the redeeming power of God’s grace.

Let’s grow, together

God’s desire for humanity is that we experience healing in all of our broken relationships — with God, ourselves, each other, and the rest of creation. These broken relationships are often at the root of addiction and homelessness. As the body of Christ, the local church is specifically empowered by God to care for people recovering from addiction. While there are many ways to encourage recovery and spiritual growth, we believe that meaningful relationship within the local church is the most effective way to for a man to grow spiritually and stay sober. It’s our hope that the local church will embrace this important work in the assurance from Jesus Christ that He will be with us “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Bits and PiecesVic King